BOSTON – Officials from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) today adopted the final Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) Class I regulations, implementing changes to biomass energy eligibility.

“Massachusetts is a leader in addressing the issues of biomass energy and greenhouse gas emissions, and the implementation of these regulations is on the forefront of national and international renewable energy and climate policy,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan.

The adoption of the final regulations comes after more than two years of evaluation, public input, and careful consideration of how best to utilize woody biomass resources for energy in a manner consistent with the Commonwealth’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect forests.

The enactment of the regulation now ends the moratorium on the qualification of woody biomass for the RPS Class I that DOER imposed in December 2009.

A draft of the regulation was filed in May 2011 and was the subject of two public hearings, a written public comment period and comments from the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

Based on those comments, DOER officials had incorporated a number of changes to the draft regulations in April. Officials then offered the regulation again for a 30-day public comment period between May 19 and June 18, 2012, after which the final regulation was prepared and filed for promulgation.

“The adoption of this revised regulation and guidelines demonstrates the Patrick-Murray Administration’s commitment to advancing the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals and greenhouse gas reduction commitments based on sound science and prudent policy,” said DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia. “Through this regulation and other initiatives, DOER believes there is a role for biomass energy in the Commonwealth focused on high efficiency use of the limited sustainable wood resource.”

The RPS program requires all retail electricity suppliers in the Commonwealth to obtain a minimum percentage of their supply from eligible renewable energy generation sources. After passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) in 2008, which requires the Commonwealth to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions across the economy 80 percent by 2050, DOER hired Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences to study the long-term greenhouse gas implications of utilizing biomass for electrical energy generation.

“I am pleased that once again Massachusetts has taken the lead in the nation by developing powerful, science-based standards in accordance with the requirements of the Global Warming Solutions Act,” said Senator Marc R. Pacheco, Chair of the Senate Committee on Global Warming and Climate Change.

DOER began this regulatory process with the goal of incorporating greenhouse gas emissions requirements consistent with the GWSA as part of eligibility for the RPS. The final regulations establish the following:

Define eligible woody biomass fuels, including classifications as either residues or thinned trees, while ensuring sustainable forest resources, and protecting habitats and ecological functions. The determination of volume of harvest residues that must be retained on a harvest site is based on soil productivity.

Require all woody biomass units to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 20 years as compared to a combined cycle natural gas unit.

Establish an electronic certificate registry to track and verify eligible biomass fuel supplies and differentiate between wood derived from residues and forest thinnings.

Mandate a minimum operating efficiency, inclusive of electric and thermal outputs, of 50 percent to receive one half of a renewable energy credit (REC) with the ability to receive a full REC at an efficiency of 60 percent.

Create a special category of biomass units deemed to be advancing the technology that will be eligible for half-RECs at an efficiency of 40 percent.

Require a Forest Impact Assessment every five years to review program implementation and any impacts on forests and markets as well as an Advisory Panel to review tracking and enforcement mechanisms.

The final regulation, guidelines, and other documentation and information are available on the RPS Biomass Policy Regulatory Process web page.

On Monday, August 20, 2012, DOER officials will announce the process to be followed for the treatment of biomass under the RPS Class II program, which supports pre-1998 renewable energy generation.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.